19 January 2009


James McGrath got me thinking today, about the word "faith." The way it is most commonly used these days, it seems to be synonymous with "belief", particularly with "belief in the absence of evidence" or "belief despite evidence to the contrary." Yet that is not how the word began. At its heart, to have faith means to trust.

What is it to trust? In the first place, it means letting go, yielding, accepting. To trust that things will turn out all right does not mean running around, pulling strings, trying to force them to turn out all right. To trust that a book is correct does not mean twisting its words until you can force them into a fixed meaning. To trust a person is to yield, to allow that person to carry out his or her own path. To trust a book is to allow the book to say what it actually says, without preconceptions.

Insisting on a particular meaning is not trust. Refusing to consider any alternative is a bit like insisting in push-hands. You decide that you're going to push, regardless of what your partner is doing, regardless of whether it's appropriate at that moment in time. If you're fast enough and lucky enough, you might push the other person out, but, if your partner is any good, insisting on that push only gives them something to use against you.

In my random quotes list, there are two from Alan Watts that sum it up nicely:

But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.

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